National insists that its employment law changes are designed to provide “fairness and flexibility” to workplaces.
So to be “fair” to employers, they want to let them dock workers’ pay when they go on a partial strike.
A partial strike doesn’t mean walking off the job – it can be any change to your normal work patterns. Partial strikes can be endlessly creative: they might involve a paperwork ban, refusing to provide cover for workers on breaks, or breaking a uniform code or other policy.
The Government says this means a loss of productivity to employers, who should be allowed to pay you less, in proportion to the amount of work they reckon you’re not doing. And if they think it’s too hard to work that out, they can just take off 10% … even if all their workers are doing is breaking the uniform code by wearing a funny hat.
Some employers think it should be even higher - like Air New Zealand, who said in their submission to the select committee that they would like to see the amount set at 25%.
Air New Zealand has experience with partial strikes – in 2009 its Zeal flight attendants wore stickers and broke the uniform rules to protest the fact they were paid a lot less than other attendants doing the same jobs. They still showed up for work, they were still performing all their duties … they just looked a little unusual.
If that dispute was re-run today, Air New Zealand says they should be allowed to dock a whole quarter of a worker’s pay just because they’re wearing a sticker.
There’s only one way this can go: more strikes, and more disruption. If taking low-level industrial action is going to cost you 10% - or 25% - of your pay, workers are going to ask themselves “Why not just go on a full strike and get this over with?” And full strikes ramp up the tension, and are far more damaging.
If unions think the bosses are docking more than they’re allowed to, it’s just going to lead to legal action as workers challenge how the deductions are calculated.
This law doesn’t give us fairness and flexibility. It creates animosity and conflict, all so a few ratbag employers can put pressure on workers to accept worse pay and conditions.